Even though I had looked forward to going to the Tower of London for years, I was also dreading it in some ways. One reason is purely practical: I dreaded the crowds. It seems that millions of other people are fascinated by the place. The other reason is philosophical: the dark history of the Tower. So many people were executed here for crimes they did not commit, because they were political prisoners, or because they were scapegoats. The story of Lady Jane Grey is an especially troubling one for me.
But I'm not going to go into an extended discussion of that here. I just want to show you some photos of the place.
The best way to get there is on the Tube. Once you walk out of the Underground, the Tower is right in front of you. Like many things in England, it's a behemouth of 1000 years of history, surrounded by modern buildings and busy expressways.
I had always thought the Tower was much smaller than it was - probably because in the movies you only see shots of the famous White Tower. It's not until you are there that you realize how massive the place really is.
I had bought my ticket online on the advice of someone, thinking that it would help me avoid some of the lines the Tower is famous for. I was there a few minutes before opening and wandered down to the Tower Bridge and took a few photos.
I didn't need to worry about crowds - at least at the beginning of the day. The place was deserted when it first opened.
The Tower originally was built as a residence for the royal family and as a fortress. An exterior wall (the wall on the right) was the first line of defense. Eventually a second wall was built (on the left) so the fortress had two defensive walls that would have to be penetrated in a battle.
One of the first things you see is the famous Traitor's gate, where prisoners, including Elizabeth I during her imprisonment, entered the Tower from the outside. The original Tower had to be entered by boat from the moat that is now filled.
This is the inside courtyard. I asked one of the yeoman where exactly Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey were imprisoned during their stays and I was surprised when he told me that no one really knows. They "think" it was the Tudor Style buildings in the back that are now called the Queen's House.
The White Tower is in the middle of the fortress. This is where the Royal Family lived while it was still a residence, and this is also where Queen Elizabeth (a princess at the time) lived during her imprisonment. She didn't have it too rough, apparently; she had all the amenities of royal life including servants that waited on her while she was here.
Part of the White Tower is under scaffolding right now. I asked why; the yeomen said it was because the entire Tower is being cleaned in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics that are coming to London.
You can still go inside the White Tower, but I'm sure it's nothing even remotely close to it's original interior structure. Each floor is basically a shell now with exhibits. Much of the interior is closed while they construct new exhibits, I'm assuming for the Olympic rush.
I wandered inside the Beauchamp Tower where many were imprisoned.
The walls on this upper floor are covered with "graffiti" if that's what you want to call it - creative writings and drawings of those who were imprisoned there for many many years.
Some of the men who were imprisoned here were supporters of Lady Jane Grey.
Here's the famous execution site - Tower Green. Apparently only a handful of people were actually executed here - most were executed outside the Tower grounds at public executions that were spectacles. The glass sculpture was erected here as a tribute to the people that had died here - a nice touch, I thought, but I thought the pillow was a little creepy considering how these people died.
The building in the back stores the crown jewels. No pictures are allowed inside that building, obviously.
By the time I was ready to leave, the crowds were starting to arrive, including several dozen school groups. Time for me to leave.
All in all, a very important place to visit and I'm glad I went. I'm also glad I took the time to reflect a little on the people that languished here, some for many years, some tortured for their religious beliefs, others for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It made going to the Tower a little more meaningful for me and not just another visit to a tourist attraction.